Seed saving is a savvy way to prepare for next year’s garden. For one, it saves a gardener the cost of buying new seeds (or seedlings) each spring. But, more importantly, seeds saved annually from a garden also slowly evolve and acclimatize to the exact spot where they grow. This means that they ultimately become the ideal plant for the space.
Tomatoes are probably the favorite homegrown snack. Garden tomatoes are far superior to those bought at supermarkets, and growing them at home puts a huge variety at our disposal. Once we find the varieties we like, it’s a great idea to start saving the seeds from those tomatoes. And, why wouldn’t a garden have several varieties — grape, canning, slicing — going at once? A few packets of seeds adds up.
Saving tomato seeds is not difficult, but it does require a little know-how. So, here’s the low ditty on how it’s done.
The Natural Process
In nature (and the right climate), tomatoes are actually great self-seeders, meaning they reproduce very readily. Anyone who has regularly tossed tomatoes into a compost pile has likely seen new sprouts coming up or had them voluntarily appear when the compost is put on the garden. Essentially, tomatoes fall to the ground and gradually rot, during which time the weather will clear off the goo that surrounds the seeds.
We, as seed savers, have to speed up this process and stow away the seeds. That means we have to remove that gelatinous covering ourselves and do so completely. That requires a bit of fermentation (What doesn’t these days?).
The Fermentation Process
The first step is gathering materials: a jar, a knife, and a couple of the choicest tomatoes for each variety to be saved. It’s important to use high quality tomatoes for this, as the crop that grows from the seed has the same genetics.
Then, we cut the tomato in half, leaving a top and bottom half, so that the seeds are exposed. After that, the seeds and pulp of the tomato should be squeezed out into the container. There is probably no need to add water to this, but if it evaporates, be sure to use non-chlorinated water, about half the volume of the pulp.
The container should sit undisturbed for a day or four, depending on the temperature, humidity, and fruit maturity. A white mold may grow atop the solution, but this isn’t a problem. The process is complete when the gooey seed coats float to the top of the liquid.
The Harvesting Process
Once the fermentation process is complete, water should be added to the mixture. The pulp and immature seeds will float, and the viable seeds will sink.
The pulpy, floating stuff should be removed, either gently pouring it away or skimming it out. A combination of pouring and skimming might be necessary.
The remaining stuff, seeds and liquid, should be poured through a strainer, and the seeds should be rinsed clean — thoroughly.
The Drying Process
Finally, the rinsed seeds should be spread thinly over a paper plate or coffee filter to dry. They often stick to paper towels and newspapers, so it’s better to avoid using them.
The seeds should be kept out of the sunlight and put in a safe place. They might need up to a month to fully dry. Some suggest putting them near a fan (or gently moving air) to speed up the process.
The deed is complete when the seeds crack easily.
The Storing Process
After going through all of these steps to get the seeds, it’s important to store them properly. That involves putting them in an airtight container and putting that container in a cool, dry, dark spot.
Don’t forget to label them! In fact, it’s a good idea to label them throughout the entire process if there are multiple varieties of tomato seeds.
While this may seem like a few steps and a bit of time, the actual entire time spent physically working on it is probably less than an hour. The results more than pay for that time because nothing really beats a delicious, homegrown tomato, especially one whose seeds were free!
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